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The Tree

T h e U W D i s c ove r y Fa r m s ® N e w s l e t t e r

September 2015

Understanding Feed Storage Losses Aaron Wunderlin

Several terms are commonly used to refer to nutrient losses from feed storage areas. To some, leachate is the liquid released from feed; to others, it is all liquid leaving the feed storage area. There are several additional terms used to refer to either of these phenomena: concentrated leachate, effluent, seepage, silage juices, percolate, contaminated runoff, secondary leachate, feed storage waste, and feed storage flow. In order to discuss feed storage losses, it is important to first make sense of the terminology. To make things clear, the UW Discovery Farms® Program uses two terms to describe the flow from the feed storage area. First, silage leachate can flow from the silage pile without precipitation. This usually occurs when the silage crop is harvested at a relatively high moisture level. The second and more common way that flow leaves a feed storage area is as runoff, which is caused by a rain or snowmelt event. If precipitation contacts stored feed, it can pick up nutrients and solids, and transport them away from the feed storage area. continued on page 2


Understanding Feed Storage Losses............................... 1, 2 The End of the Line for Soil Loss.............................................. 1, 3 Winter Conference Announced............................................ 3 Soil Samples Put to Work..................................................... 4 Managing Dissolved Phosphorus Losses.......................... 5 DF Research Shows that Grade Stabilization Structures are Good for Water Quality................................................. 5

Areas where cropland meets property lines are commonly in need of attention to make sure they are protected against soil loss.

The End of the Line for Soil Loss Kevan Klingberg

Have you considered that the land surrounding crop fields is also vulnerable to soil loss? These areas can even lead to greater field losses if not considered in conservation activities; a point that became clear during walkovers conducted on project farms in Wisconsin. On a mission to pinpoint both the transport and source of soil loss, we conducted walkovers on more than 60 farms totaling more than 15,000 acres. Walkovers visually assessed the areas affected by surface water runoff and identified whether current management was protecting against soil loss. The end product was a snapshot in time report to farmers summarizing interactions between landscape, farm practices and surface water runoff on their land.

Summer Events Recap.......................................................... 6 Co-Director’s Column........................................................... 7

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1. Harvesting forages at the appropriate moisture content will decrease spoilage and leachate losses and increase feed quality.

Now that we’ve defined key terms, let’s discuss how feed storage losses compare to Discovery Farms edge of field loss data, and what can be done to reduce the risk of loss.

2. Properly covering silage and retaining walls decreases contact between stored feed and precipitation. Less contact increases feed quality and storage period, also resulting in a reduced risk of leachate loss.

Sixty percent of precipitation events cause runoff from feed storage areas, compared to nine percent on farm fields. Unlike fields, feed storage areas are impervious so they are more likely to run off. Feed storage areas run off more often than farm fields and it takes less precipitation to cause runoff. It only takes 0.01 inches of precipitation to produce runoff from a feed storage area, or ten times less than the minimum rainfall required to produce runoff from farm fields.

3. Removing or covering spoil piles so waste feed doesn’t have a double impact. It is already spoiled; don’t let it also become an environmental concern by tainting water that runs off the area. Liquid leaving feed storage areas can be highly concentrated, but not always. By identifying ways to capture liquid only when it contains high levels of nutrients and organic acids we can protect water quality without capturing unnecessary amounts of lowrisk water. We are working closely with the UW Biological Systems Engineering Department, private engineers and state agencies to figure out how to do just that.

One acre of feed storage can lose as much N and P as 200 cropland acres.

We have spent the past three years monitoring the liquid leaving feed storage areas on three private farms. A comprehensive evaluation of the large amount of data gathered from the feed storage leachate study is underway. Discovery Farms seeks to understand the causes of annual variation in leachate strength; the effect of feed volume, type, and area covered on leachate production; and the efficiencies of alternative systems. Cost effective options for modifying current systems are also being explored.

Feed storage areas may only cover a small amount of the total acres on a farm, but their potential water quality impacts are considerable. In fact, nitrogen and phosphorus values in runoff from a one acre feed storage area can be similar to losses from 200 acres of cropland according to Discovery Farms data. Don’t forget about this small area when looking for ways to reduce on-farm nutrient losses.

For more information vist the UW Discovery Farms Feed Storage Leachate Project page or contact Aaron Wunderlin at §

Preventing feed storage losses is a win-win for feed quality and water quality. There are three management practices that can minimize the amount of leachate produced from feed storage areas, reducing the amount of nutrients in feed storage runoff.

Runoff from a feed storage area monitored as part of our leachate project. 2

The Tree-September 2015

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Results from walkovers stress the need to

1. protect the soil from erosive precipitation during vulnerable times and

2. provide a vegetated route for runoff to move downslope and away.

Fast moving water can create gully heads on either end of the wooded landscape and begin to erode into cropland. Areas that transition to or from wooded ravines often are in need of large, well defined waterways and even grade stabilization structures to slow water and capture sediment.

These pointers extend to vulnerable areas on all parts of the farm, not just cropland. Areas commonly in need of a closer look are boundaries where cropland ends at property lines, wooded ravines, and waterway outlets. In reality, the line where cropland and non-cropland meet is the last line of defense to protect against soil loss. Our walkover project showed many of these areas to be in rough shape, contributing to soil loss, and in need of repair and management.

Even on flatter landscapes, watching the edge of cropland is important. Properly maintained waterways provide a route for excessive water to leave the field, but what happens at the end of the waterway? It is common to see soil sediment accumulate and build up causing problems at waterway outlets on flatter landscapes. Keep these areas functioning by reshaping outlet width and depth as needed to keep runoff water moving off the field.

During farm walkovers, we observed significant differences in elevation between property lines. Sometimes the drop was three or more feet from one side of the fenceline to the other. Where water flow paths intersect property lines, neighbors have to work together to create a stable ‘in between’ area as an outlet for water from one owner and an inlet for that water to move efficiently across the next property. Projects like this require earth work and neighbor cooperation on both sides of the fence.

Plans to minimize soil loss must be developed for all land, not just cropland. In addition to viewing where water flows within and between crop fields, spots where cropland meets property lines or uncropped areas should be visited to make sure runoff water is conveyed at a safe speed and does not counteract all the in-field work done to reduce soil loss. §

In hill and valley landscapes, woodland and wooded ravines both receive and deliver surface water runoff.

Visit us on the web at to find more articles about our walkover results and other topics that were featured In the News this summer.

Mark Your Calendars for the next UW Discovery Farms Winter Conference! The 4th annual UW Discovery Farms conference invites farmers, crop consultants, and other ag professionals to The Wilderness Territory at Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin on December 15, 2015. Come learn from farmers and professionals about the best ways to protect your assets! The 2015 conference will focus on understanding and managing for farming system vulnerabilities. Experts from Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will provide practical information on ways to enhance your financial and environmental bottom line. Topics include: manure use in no-till systems, manure incorporation strategies, nitrogen technology tips and tricks, and new conservation tools to make your job easier! There will be ample opportunity to chat with experts and farmer panelists. Make sure to watch for more information and don’t forget to mark your calendars. You won’t want to miss this!

Save the Date!

This year’s conference will feature two farmer and consultant panels. One on advanced methods for manure incorporation and another on nitrogen technology tips and tricks. 3 The Tree-September 2015

When: December 15th, 2015 Where: The Wilderness Territory, Wisconsin Dells, WI Who: Farmers, crop consultants, ag professionals, and agency personnel Contact Discovery Farms at 715.983.5668 or email for more information.

Soil Samples Put to Work

dioxide is released from the soil. Soil respiration can estimate microbial biomass and nutrient cycling in soil.

Erica Olson, Summer Intern, UW-Madison Student


he degradation of soil over time reduces soil quality and lowers crop production. It is important for farmers to pay attention to their soil in order to preserve the production of future crops. By improving soil quality, farmers can benefit from better plant growth, reduced risk of yield loss, and reduced input costs. As a part of the Nitrogen Use Efficiency Project, I spent the summer collecting soil samples from farms in the Rock River Watershed. I took these samples, along with samples from the Jersey Valley Watershed and Dry Run Creek Watershed, and ground and weighed them before they were analyzed a series of soil quality indicators. These soil quality indicators will give us information about the biological activity in soil, which is responsible for keeping soil alive and healthy.

5. TOC or Total Organic Carbon includes all active and stable pools of carbon within organic matter. Organic matter varies in carbon levels and decomposition, so it is good to keep TOC in mind because it is the main source of energy for soil microbes.

By quantifying these measurements according to region, we hope to better understand the relationship between soil quality measurements and management practices. Understanding soil in relation to management practices may be the key to sustaining and improving soil quality. This higher quality soil may provide future benefits to crop production. To better understand the relationship between I took many soil samples this summer soil quality and management practices, on farms in Dane, Jefferson, and Rock I will analyze the soil test results and Counties. Samples were taken from construct a series of findings soil with applied N and from small test categorized by region.

strips with 0N applied.

Five procedures for soil quality indication were used: 1. PMN or Potentially Mineralizable Nitrogen, is the amount of nitrogen converted from an organic form to a plant available form such as ammonium. Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient in corn growth, and microbes are very important in the mineralization of nitrogen into a plant available form.

Biological indicators can quickly change positively or negatively because of management practices. We hope this piece of the project will give us a better understanding of management practices and their relationship to soil quality. Discovery Farms is looking forward to having more results and information about soil quality to share with participating farmers in order to preserve the good things happening under our feet. Stay tuned for more results on soil quality and the Nitrogen Use Efficiency Project! ยง

2. Active Carbon is the pool of carbon that is available for the microbial community to use as an energy source. It describes degradation of organic matter from plants, compost, and manure. 3. POM or Particulate Organic Matter is chemically and physically active and is an important nutrient source for microorganisms, soil animals, and plants. POM enhances soil structure, binds to environmental pollutants, and can suppress soilborne disease.

Paper bags and buckets were used to mix and store the soil. It was then brought back to the lab to be dried, ground and weighed for testing.

4. PMC or Potentially Mineralizable Carbon, also known as soil respiration, measures the activity of soil microbes and rate of decomposition as carbon 4 The Tree-September 2015

Managing Dissolved Phosphorus Losses

3. Avoid application during or near runoff events.

Tim Radatz and Sam Hess, Summer Intern, UW-River Falls Student

Applying phosphorus (in manure or fertilizer) shortly before surface runoff happens – snowmelt and saturated soil conditions – increases the risk of dissolved phosphorus loss. Discovery Farms research has shown that one bad decision on the timing of application can more than triple dissolved phosphorus losses in a year. §


educing phosphorus losses from agricultural fields can be challenging. Phosphorus can be attached to soil particles or dissolved in runoff water. According to Discovery Farms research, half of the total phosphorus lost from fields is attached to soil particles and half is dissolved in runoff water. This means that half of phosphorus problems are solved with soil conservation measures. The other half of the problem, minimizing dissolved phosphorus loss, is not as straight forward. Here are three things to consider when assessing management systems for dissolved phosphorus losses:

UW Discovery Farms Research Shows Grade Stabilization Structures Improve Water Quality

1. Incorporate phosphorus

Mikayla Simonson, Summer Intern, UW-Madison Student

Surface application of phosphorus without incorporation increases the risk of dissolved phosphorus loss. Incorporating phosphorus into the soil profile lowers the amount of phosphorus at the soil surface and limits its ability to interact with runoff. The key is knowing how much soil disturbance your landscape can handle so that soil loss is not compromised for the incorporation of phosphorus.


dopting conservation practices is a key step towards minimizing soil and nutrient losses from farm fields. Equally important to their adoption, is knowing which conservation practices are best suited to reduce losses on a given landscape. A new UW Discovery Farms® Program Extension Publication titled, Conservation benefits of a grade stabilization structure, is a great resource for agriculture professionals looking to help farmers implement conservation practices on steep landscapes.

2. Apply at the right rate Apply phosphorus at rates that keep soil tests levels in a reasonable range. Discovery Farms and related University of Wisconsin research has shown that as soil test phosphorus increases, so does the concentration of dissolved phosphorus in runoff (see chart below). According to Discovery Farms data, soil test phosphorus levels greater than 80 ppm can increase dissolved phosphorus loss by two to three times. Routine soil sampling and nutrient management planning are keys to determining correct application rates and limiting dissolved phosphorus loss.

The publication describes results from an eight-year study that evaluated soil, nitrogen, and phosphorus losses in watersheds pre- and post-installation of a grade stabilization structure (GSS). The data was collected on a UW Discovery Farms Core Farm located in Buffalo County. The research highlights the conservation value of installing grade stabilization structures, which are designed to slow down and retain surface runoff originating from flat top ridges and steep side slopes. GSSs also physically stop sediment from continuing downslope. The research results show that the installation of a GSS led to a reduction in soil loss (erosion), which also led to an overall reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus loss. It is clear that a GSS can be a very effective and practical on-farm conservation tool. A GSS is not overly expensive to install and requires very little land disturbance and maintenance. To read more about installation of GSSs and the research on their conservation benefits you can download Conservation benefits of a grade stabilization structure (A4099) from the UW Extension Learning Store. § 5

The Tree-September 2015

2015 Summer Events Recap 65 farmers, policymakers and ag personnel tour the Jersey Valley Watershed

Jersey Valley Watershed Tour and Conservation Award Day

UW Discovery Farms intern, Sam Hess, explains how water samples are taken.

Secretary of Agriculture, Ben Brancel, addresses the crowd.

120 people celebrate the 2014 Leopold Conservation Award Winners, the Herricks Family.

Dry Run Field Day

USDA-NRCS area resource conservationist, Brian Briski, discusses cover crops.

The beautiful Bomaz Farms hosted this year’s Dry Run Field Day.

Megan Chawner, NUE Project Coordinator, talks nitrogen.

Bragger Family Graduation

Joe Bragger introduces the family including farming partners Dan and Hildegard.

Tour attendees listen as Joe Bragger discusses conservation. 6 The Tree-September 2015

The Bragger Family receives a citation from Rep. Danou for their conservation leadership.

Getting conservation efforts back to the kitchen table

We cannot allow new mapping and modeling technologies to replace kitchen table talk. Although these new tools can aid in targeting critical landscapes, they should be used along with one-onone farmer interactions, not in replace of them. It is imperative that conservation professionals work alongside farmers to walk the land, kick the dirt, and collaborate if we want to effectively move conservation forward.

Co-Director’s Column, Eric Cooley

In a recent Grow magazine interview I was asked what it is I like most about working for Discovery Farms. Although there is a lot I enjoy, the answer to this question was simple: “I get to work with some of the best problem solvers out there, farmers, to answer some of the greatest challenges of modern agriculture.”

Supplying farmers with information to make informed management decisions is paramount to generating effective solutions to modern agricultural challenges. Discovery Farms has over 100 site years of data from private farms, and with that we are beginning to be able to understand timing and mechanisms for loss across farms, instead of solely on individual farms. This enhances our understanding of the management practices that are most effective at reducing sediment and nutrient loss on specific landscapes or management systems. Our data can offer all farmers additional information they can use to solve loss challenges they are facing on their farms.

Working collaboratively with farmers to design feasible water quality solutions based on our data, is not only something I enjoy, it is the key to our program’s success. Farmers have an unmatched understanding of their land and are natural problem solvers. They tinker and troubleshoot. This does not stop at tractors and tools, but extends to soil and water quality strategies.

Without farmer participation and an expansive community of collaborators, Discovery Farms would not be possible. We cannot thank current and past Discovery Farms participants enough for opening their farms and their kitchen tables to us. Their contribution allows us to obtain the vital data and management information needed to develop practical and effective water quality strategies. These strategies are then shared with Wisconsin’s diverse agricultural community, benefiting the whole system. We are also grateful for the individuals and organizations that continue to support Discovery Farms, both directly and indirectly, to allow for further research and kitchen table discussions in order to enhance Wisconsin agriculture while protecting its precious water resources. §

Joe Bragger and Shane Goplin discuss their soil and water quality strategies. Farmers bring to the table something that can’t be replaced with formal education or years of research, but that is a much needed complement. Their depth of knowledge and specific expertise helps determine the most plausible, effective and economically viable solutions to minimize soil and nutrient losses from farm fields. This kitchen table collaboration can take time and effort, but it is time well spent.

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University of Wisconsin


Cooperative Extension Trempealeau County Discovery Farms PO Box 429, 40195 Winsand Drive Pigeon Falls, WI 54760-0429

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For more information and to stay connected:

Co-Directors Eric Cooley
 608-235-5259 Amber Radatz 608-317-0001 Faculty Advisor Matt Ruark 608-263-2889 Nitrogen Use Efficiency Project Coordinator Megan Chawner 608-262-0383 Outreach Specialist Kevan Klingberg

Outreach Specialist Callie Herron 715-983-5668 This newsletter can be found on the web at: Program Assistant Judy Goplin
 715-983-5668 Research Specialist Regarding the mailing list, call/e-mail 715-983-5668 or Aaron Wunderlin 920-839-5431 Dry Run Watershed Coordinator UW Discovery Farms is a producer-led research and outreach program based out of the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The Todd Prill 715-225-0862 program is unique in that it conducts research on working farms located throughout Wisconsin, seeking to identify the impacts of production agriculture on water quality. The program is managed by faculty from the University of Wisconsin, along with oversight from a steering committee of producers, citizens and agency personnel representing a wide variety of non-profit and government organizations. Funding has been provided by the State of Wisconsin, UWExtension, as well as a number of annual grants from producer groups and our federal partners.

An EEO/Affirmative Action employer, University of Wisconsin-Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and programming, including Title IX and ADA requirements. Request for reasonable accommodation for disabilities or limitations should be made prior to the date of the program or activity for which it is needed. Publications are available in alternative formats upon request. Please make such requests as early as possible by contacting the Discovery Farms office at 715-983-5668 so proper arrangements can be made.

Discovery Farms September 2015 Newsletter  
Discovery Farms September 2015 Newsletter